Soldiers in Bahrain attacked crowds marching toward Manama’s Pearl Square with ammunition from helicopters and tear-gas grenades. Defying government orders not to march, the protesters were gathered to mourn the death of one of their own — killed during an earlier police crackdown. It’s still uncertain whether security forces were using live fire or rubber bullets, but helicopters sprayed the gatherers from above even as they were running away. After taking aim at the mourners, a helicopter turned its fire toward a Western reporter and videographer shooting footage of the conflict. The soldiers even fired on medics as they tried to load the wounded into ambulances, which are still being denied access. A Western official told the New York Times that the shooters were from the military, not the police, an indicator of the government’s militant stance against seeing the same type of popular revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak. The protesters, who are mainly Shi’ite, have been demanding more of a voice in the Sunni-ruled island state since Monday’s “Day of Rage.” According to estimates from the U.S. State Department, 70 percent of Bahraini nationals are Shi’ites.
On Bahrain TV, Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa called for open communication, saying, “The dialogue is always open and the reforms continue. This land is for all citizens of Bahrain.” He added, “We need to call for self-restraint from all sides, the armed forces, security men, and citizens.”
As in Egypt, the White House is in the awkward position of asking for restraint from a longtime strategic ally, while not appearing to directly oppose the regime. After four protesters were killed on Wednesday night, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “expressed deep concern about recent events and urged restraint moving forward.”
As the government turned to violence, the protesters, who vowed to repeat Egypt’s nonviolent model, have likewise grown more aggressive. Early on they called for a transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one. Then, reports the Times, “On Thursday, the opposition withdrew from the Parliament and demanded that the government step down. And on Friday, the mourners were chanting slogans like ‘death to Khalifa,’ referring to King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.”